Does Twitter Sell Books? Yes, it Does

Alma L. Figueroa

With so much excitement and hype surrounding Twitter, I decided to look for concrete examples of social media success in book publishing. I interviewed two different publishers to get their take on how engaging on Twitter has benefited them.

Twitter requires an investment of time and resources, so the first and most obvious question is, does it work? Does it sell books? I asked Michael Taeckens, Publicity Director of Algonquin Books, and he answered emphatically, “Yes, absolutely.” I agree as well. At FSB, we are running tests to judge the impact of Twitter chatter on sales and the picture is undeniable: Twitter is leading to sales (more on that next month).

Algonquin Books (@algonquinbooks) was featured in Huffington Post’s recent article on the 12 Best Publishers on Twitter. Another publisher on the list was Alfred A. Knopf, and I asked Mary Buckley and Pamela Cortland if they feel their efforts managing Twitter feeds sell books. They too said yes. The dynamic duo have been Tweeting for Knopf (@aaknopf) for just over a year. Although they were not hired for this role, they seem to be naturals at it. First they took over the Facebook page and later the Twitter feed. “April 2009, we decided to create a more active presence. Mary and I split the tweeting responsibilities because we were both interested in Twitter’s potential for engagement with readers,” said Cortland.

The growth in the number of followers for both Algonquin and Knopf has been substantial. In 2009 Knopf had 1,581 followers and today they have over 32,000. I asked them what the secret to their success is and if the growth was steady, “Our growth goes in spurts where some days we’ll increase by fifty followers and the next by two-hundred. On average we gain about one-hundred followers a day. We see a big surge when our authors with huge followings (e.g. Anne Rice, Nicholas Kristof) retweet posts of interest to them. In addition, we find that our tweets about general literary news such as book festivals across the country or discussions of the book world today has appealed to a broad audience.” Algonquin also has a hefty following of over 26,000.

The trick to their success may lie in the community building which is so crucial to Twitter. Taeckens explains his three point plan for engagement: “First, be pro-active about interacting with other people; you have to engage in conversations, not merely post as if you’re reporting to a captive public. Second, display your sense of personality; use wit, humor, creativity, and have fun. Third, post and comment on topics you know and care about–not just literature and publishing, but all topics in the cultural dialogue.”

Creating communities and loyal followers is a time consuming endeavor, especially since neither of the Twitter feeds are run by dedicated community managers. Taeckens has the demanding job of being the Publicity Director and this fall will move into his new position of Online and Paperback Marketing Director, while Mary Buckley is Assistant Manager of Advertising and Promotions and Pamela Cortland is Assistant Marketing Manager. How do they manage to run such successful Twitter feeds? “From the outset, we created a system of alternating “tweeting days,” so we wouldn’t get burnt out on the effort of finding interesting things to say. Hootsuite allows us to queue up our daily load of tweets in a small block of time in the morning. We’re always hearing about interesting book news–on blogs, on industry sites, in the paper, on Twitter itself–so it’s never been too difficult to gather up material to tweet. Additionally, now that our colleagues are more aware of Twitter’s potential to reach a vast audience of readers, booksellers, and media contacts, they’ve been wonderful about feeding us with great reviews and author events,” said Buckley.

For Taeckens, Twitter seems a natural extension of his job: “It depends on how good you are at multitasking. I’m used to–and thrive on–doing multiple activities at once. I think it’s a skill that people will have to hone, because Twitter and other social media forms are growing increasingly important. If one isn’t particularly adept at multi-tasking, one could always set aside certain time periods throughout the day to check in and engage in Twitter.”

To a simple question, both companies provided inspiring answers. What do you think is the biggest benefit of Twitter for authors and publishers? “It’s an honest-to-goodness thrill for our company to interact directly with readers, authors, and booksellers. Twitter allows publishers like us to be listeners in addition to content-providers. Being in a virtual room with millions of readers makes us more aware of what people want from us, from our authors, and from literature,” explained Cortand and Buckley. Taeckens eloquently added, “The opportunity to convey your personal, unique sense of identity in real time.”

In both these cases, the Twitter managers found a place to express their passion for their books, authors, and industry. They did not set out to build a large number of followers. They set out, almost as an experiment, to engage with a community and found it to be extremely gratifying and successful.

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